The visitors came in droves on a chilly Monday afternoon, crowding the offices and courtrooms for a close look at the renovated Fulton County Courthouse in Wauseon.
An open house at 210 S. Fulton St. on Jan. 6 drew both the curious and the proud to wander the building’s newly painted and carpeted hallways, stairways, and offices to admire new features. Many ultimately settled into seats in the project’s crowning achievement, the restored and updated Common Pleas courtroom.
Judge Jeffrey Robinson, who helped to spearhead the 10-month, $4.2 million courthouse renovation, animatedly led a continual question and answer session in Common Pleas Court, pointing out improvements and lauding the restoration.
He praised the cleaning and brightening of aged courtroom paintings by John Canning and Co. of Connecticut. Judge Robinson pointed out a small, untreated square on one painting, left to demonstrate how dark the room’s paintings had become from years of neglect.
He also brought attention to desks used during court trials by the prosecution and defense teams. Judge Robinson said they are replicas of the courtroom’s original desks, created by Wauseon resident Bert Dieringer over a six-month period. “They’re absolutely stunning,” he said.
And he complimented more comfortable gallery benches manufactured by Sauder Woodworking of Archbold, and woodworking and staining by Stahl Brothers.
Thanks to a technological upgrade, the courtroom’s judge’s bench, desks, and jury box are electronically connected so that evidence and other trial materials can be viewed simultaneously.
“It makes the presentation much easier, and much more efficient,” Judge Robinson said.
The courthouse also received devices for hearing impaired jurors, updates in the lighting, HVAC, electrical, and mechanical systems, and a $300,000 American Disabilities Act-complaint elevator to replace an elevator installed in 1968. Additionally, a nearly $300,000 sprinkler system was added, a feature that, until the renovation, was absent from the 147-year-old wooden courthouse.
“This is a wooden structure, folks. We never had a sprinkling system in here. It’s now safe,” Judge Robinson told visitors.
He said 95% of the technology installed was funded by the Ohio Supreme Court. Another $2.5 million for the overall renovation project was collected from court user fees, and Fulton County Clerk of Courts Tracy Zuver donated over $1 million from the county’s Title Bureau.
“The overall courtroom restoration is just a wonderful, beautiful thing that was done to preserve history, and we took it back to what it would have looked like but yet with modern technology. It is just awesome,” Zuver said. “To look back on where it started, and to see where it is now – it’s just an astronomical difference.”
Fulton County Commissioner Bill Rufenacht said, “We’re very, very happy with how it’s turned out. The courtroom surpassed what I thought it would be.”
He also was impressed with the numbers of people who turned out for the open house, saying, “It’s tremendous, much bigger than I anticipated.”
Susan Long retired three years ago after serving the county Title Bureau for more than 26 years. She came to see the finished renovation.
“It’s fabulous, it’s breathtaking,” she said. “Before, it was old-looking, kind of dingy. But this is absolutely fabulous. I’m just so impressed.”
Ninety-one year old Jim Figy stood in the courthouse’s first-floor hallway, his eyes wandering over the changes.
“This is just fantastic that the commissioners and the judges had the wisdom to restore this wonderful facility instead of tearing it down,” he said. “We’re a tear-down society, and this was one of the smartest moves the powers to be in our county ever made. Wonderful decision. I’m impressed with what I’ve seen.“
Reach David J. Coehrs at 419-335-2010.